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Cardinals – The Red Feathered Small Birds

cardinal-bird image
Their beautiful red feathers make them one of the most loved birds in America.

Even if you’re not an expert birdwatcher, you’re sure to know a cardinal when you see one. Their beautiful red feathers make them one of the most loved birds in America. Cardinals live in the eastern United States only so if you live west of the Rocky Mountains, you’ve probably never seen one.

Cardinals are a type of bird that is known for its bright red feathers. They are found in North and South America and are often seen in gardens and forests. Male cardinals have a distinctive red color, while females are more brown. Cardinals are known for their beautiful songs and are popular birds to spot and listen to.

Cardinal Facts For Kids

  • Cardinals are small, red songbirds found in North and South America.
  • The male cardinal is bright red; females are brown with red accents.
  • They have a crest on their head which can rise when they’re excited or agitated.
  • Cardinals eat seeds, insects, and fruit.
  • They don’t migrate and stay in the same place all year round.
  • Cardinals are known for their beautiful, cheerful songs.
  • They are named after the red robes worn by Catholic Cardinals.
  • Cardinal nests are built by females, usually in dense shrubbery.
  • They can have up to four broods, or sets of chicks, a year.
  • Cardinals are the state bird for seven U.S. states.


Birdwatching is a captivating and enlightening pastime for children, particularly when studying the striking Cardinal. These birds, recognized for their radiant red plumage and unique crest, are simple to identify. The males are predominantly red, while the females exhibit a more muted combination of brown and red.

Cardinals, famously known for their loud, clear whistles, predominantly inhabit North and South America, making them a familiar sight in numerous backyards. These birds exhibit a potent homing instinct, seldom venturing far from their birthplace. Therefore, when a cardinal is spotted in your vicinity, it is highly likely you’ll encounter them again, making them an ideal subject for nascent birdwatchers to observe and learn about.


The captivating realm of Ornithology, the scientific study of birds, encompasses a myriad of intriguing species such as the Cardinal, a bird that holds particular appeal for children. As native songbirds of North and South America, Cardinals are renowned for their stunning red plumage that varies between genders; the males are adorned in a striking bold red, while females exhibit a softer, pale brown with hints of red.

Beyond their visual allure, Cardinals are celebrated for their distinctive melodious songs, which serve as a means of communication and territorial demarcation. These fairly large birds, comparable in size to a teacup, are easily recognizable by a unique crest on their heads, the position of which is indicative of their mood.

A notable characteristic of Cardinals is their non-migratory nature, remaining in the same locale throughout the year, making them a constant, cherished presence in many communities.

North American Bird Species

Recognizable for their bright red plumage and distinctive crest, Cardinals, also known as ‘northern cardinals’, stand out as one of the most easily identifiable bird species in North America. Their uniqueness extends beyond their appearance as both male and female cardinals break the avian norm by singing, whereas in most species only the males do.

Cardinals are non-migratory, choosing to brave the cold winter months in their habitats that range from the eastern United States, and southern Canada, to Mexico and Central America. As omnivores, they maintain a diverse diet of seeds, grains, fruits, insects, and snails. The combination of their vibrant coloration, melodious songs, and year-round presence has endeared them to both children and birdwatchers alike.

Bird Anatomy

Cardinals are captivating avian creatures, distinguished by their distinctive features and attributes. With a body length of roughly 8.3-9.1 inches and a wingspan ranging from 9.8-12.2 inches, their robust, sturdy bodies are characterized by a large head, an imposing thick beak, and a long tail. Their beak, specially designed for cracking seeds – a staple in their diet – is incredibly strong.

Their relatively short, rounded wings, ideal for navigating the trees and bushes they inhabit and feed in, are not designed for long-distance flight. Instead, these birds excel in short, quick flights, which serve as an effective mechanism for evading predators.

One of the cardinal’s most distinctive features is its vibrant red hue, although it’s worth noting that this is unique to the males. Female cardinals, while maintaining the same bodily proportions and size, display a more subdued tan or brown color.

Bird Mating and Breeding Behaviors

Cardinal birds, distinguished for their unique mating and breeding behaviors, captivate children’s interest. The easily identifiable male cardinals, with their vivid red plumage, flit between trees, vocalizing to draw a mate.

Upon identifying a female, they partake in an endearing courtship ritual involving the male feeding the female seeds beak-to-beak, strengthening their connection and indicating his ability to nourish future offspring.

Typically, the female cardinal lays three to four eggs and incubates them for roughly two weeks. Both parents mutually contribute to their offspring’s upbringing, instructing them to fly and scavenge food, exemplifying a remarkable model of teamwork and shared accountability within the animal kingdom.

Bird Migration Patterns

Cardinal birds, recognized for their stunning red hue and melodious songs, exhibit distinctive behavior in terms of their migration patterns. Unlike most birds that undertake lengthy voyages to the south during the cold season, cardinals demonstrate an adaptation to the harsh winter conditions, choosing to stay in the same vicinity throughout the year.

They owe their survival during this season to their ability to subsist on a diet of berries, seeds, and insects, and their habit of forming large communities to share warmth and ward off predators. So, those wishing to spot these brilliantly colored birds in their backyards can expect their presence year-round, thanks to their unique non-migratory behavior.

Birdsong and Communication

Cardinal birds are captivating entities, renowned for their unique bird song and intricate communication methods. Each cardinal boasts a distinct song, serving as their communication mechanism with their peers. These songs are a means of conveying a range of messages, from establishing their territory to attracting mates or alerting others to potential threats.

The male cardinal, in particular, is recognized for its striking, resonant songs commonly heard during the spring and summer seasons. On the other hand, the female cardinal typically employs a succession of chirps and calls. Furthermore, fledgling cardinals acquire their songs by attentively listening to and imitating the tunes of the mature cardinals around them, illustrating that their communication is a collective endeavor.

Avian Diet and Nutrition

Known as ‘redbirds,’ cardinals have a fascinating diet predominantly composed of seeds, grains, fruits, and insects. Their potent, pointed beaks are perfectly structured to effortlessly break open even the hardest seeds and shells.

While insects constitute a smaller portion of their diet, they are crucial, particularly for the younger cardinals. Cardinals also relish a wide array of fruits, including berries, which they frequently discover in the wild, in addition to a considerable intake of corn and sunflower seeds. By comprehending the cardinal’s diet, we can gain a deeper appreciation for these vibrant birds and their contribution to our ecosystem.

Bird Conservation Efforts

Bird conservation efforts often prioritize Cardinals due to their vivid colors and appeal to bird watchers. These vibrant red birds, celebrated for their melodious songs and adaptability to various habitats ranging from woodlands to backyards, are emblematic in the U.S., serving as the state bird for seven states.

However, they are increasingly threatened by habitat loss, pollution, and climate change. Conservationists are therefore dedicated to mitigating these threats by planting native vegetation, creating bird-friendly environments, and enhancing public awareness about the crucial role Cardinals play in our ecosystem. Their conservation is not just about maintaining America’s love for them but is also essential for preserving biodiversity.

Backyard Birds and Bird Feeders

The vibrant red feathers and unique crest of the cardinal bird make it a delightful sight in numerous North American backyards. These birds, which are year-round residents due to their non-migratory nature, are frequent visitors to bird feeders, especially during the colder months.

By providing cardinal favorites like sunflower and safflower seeds in feeders equipped with perches, backyard observers can attract these beautiful creatures. Keep in mind to watch out for them during their most active times, which are early morning and late evening.

Red Cardinal Bird Image - Science for Kids All About Cardinals
All About Cardinals: Their beautiful red feathers make them one of the most loved birds in America.

Cardinals eat insects, grain, seeds and fruit. They don’t migrate south for the winter, but rely on bird feeders for food during cold, snowy months. Cardinals are brilliant musicians. They can sing over 24 different songs and both males and females sing!

Red Cardinal Eating Fruits Image
Cardinals eat insects, grain, seeds and fruit.

Fun Facts about Cardinals for Kids

  • Male cardinals protect their territory. They sometimes run into windows because they think their reflection is another bird.
  • During the nesting season, the male cardinal finds food for the female who takes care of the babies.
  • Cardinals sometimes join flocks of birds.
  • Scientists believe female cardinals sing to tell the males when they need food.
Red Cardinal Singing Image
They can sing over 24 different songs and both males and females sing!

Cardinal Vocabulary

  1. Expert: knowledgeable
  2. Migrate: temporarily move
  3. Birdfeeder: a box or bowl with food for birds
  4. Flock: group
Flock of Red Cardinals on Tree Branches Image
Cardinals sometimes join flocks of birds.

Learn More All About Cardinals

Watch this mini video documentary about them:

A short documentary about the Northern Cardinal.

Cardinal Q&A

Question: Do cardinals raise one batch of chicks each summer?

Answer: Cardinals raise as many as three groups, or clutches, of eggs each summer.